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Home Page --> December 2007

Bhutto Assassinated (Updated)

Nothing online yet, but cable news is reporting that former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated.

UPDATE:

This is obviously terrible and tragic news. CNN has this awful story.

WaPo and MSNBC have more.


UPDATE II:

Gateway Pundit has the roundup.

Finger pointing will soon follow. Ed Morrissey suspects the usual suspects.

Holiday Blogging

Updates and blogging will be slower over the next few days due to the holidays, but we'll be updating throughout the week. Check in between glasses of egg nog, and catch up on what the blogosphere is saying as we get ready for Iowa and the new year.

But more importantly...

...does your senator have a Christmas tree in their office?

Richardson's Egg Timer

The Caucus:


I just got a phone call -- unprompted -- from Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democratic candidate for president, blasting Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for saying she would withdraw nearly all American troops from Iraq within a year of beginning redeployment.

"Senator Clinton's comments are a stunning flip-flop -- she's been saying she would keep troops in Iraq for five years, until 2013, and now she comes up with an inconsistent, incredible turnaround," Mr. Richardson said.
Mrs. Clinton has maintained that she would leave a residual force behind in Iraq to pursue narrow missions, a position that her spokesman said she still holds. As her aides have done before, the spokesman declined to say how many troops Mrs. Clinton would leave.

Mr. Richardson's poke begs the question: Is he, in fact, uninterested in being Mrs. Clinton's running mate should she win the nomination? Some Democrats have suspected that he was angling for the job, given the fact that he has heretofore stuck up for her in some of the recent presidential debates.


Bill Richardson is in a tough spot. With Iowa approaching rapidly, he needs to find a way to make the Hail Mary pass and create contrast between the top-tier and himself. Knowing he can't possibly compete with Hillary or Obama, it seems Richardson may be hoping to influence his support base for when they ultimately become "free agents" during the caucuses. Clinton's campaign has been tracking second-choice caucus goers like those who support Richardson, and this may be the governor's last chance to exert some influence in the overall race.

Some bloggers have taken exception to such cynicism, and instead believe we should take Richardson at his word. While I'm sure he is annoyed by Clinton's Iraq rhetoric, I still believe it's mostly electoral in nature. Richardson needs to draw contrasts on Iraq with Clinton, Obama and even Edwards. In order to finish respectably in Iowa--at least enough to keep going in New Hampshire--he has wed himself to being "more serious" about withdrawal than the top tier. He can't do this, however, if Clinton & Co. flip their rhetoric around on the issue.

I find it unlikely that Richardson called up The Caucus because he wanted the world to know Hillary came around on Iraq too late. He's ticked off, because she's hurting his ability to chip away and stay relevant in the race. If he really wanted to have influence on Iraq policy, wouldn't he have a better shot doing it on the Democratic ticket, or in State?

This isn't Richardson giving up on the VP nomination. There has to be some more strategy behind this, as Kyle Moore gets at in his post on the story. Maybe some top-tier, second-tier collusion in Iowa?

Bob Kerrey can't be the only surrogate in America.


Others Blogging It:

Instapundit
The Glittering Eye
MORE

Hillary Being Hillary

Ed Morrissey:


How Clintonian! Attacking opponents for attacking her while attacking them. James Carville once said, "It's hard for someone to hit you when you have your fist in their face." It's even harder to attack one's opponents while shooting one's self in the foot -- repeatedly.

Hillary has the highest negatives of any serious contender on both sides of this race. Criticism of "present" votes certainly makes sense, but setting up an entire website for it goes beyond Carvillian. And trying to garner sympathy for being a front-runner is not only futile, it makes her look thin-skinned and petulant.

Who's advising this campaign, anyway? A more competent staff would have figured out how to work the criticism into the campaign without turning it into an apparent obsession, and without the poor-me companion website.


This comes in response to ABC News's discovery of two anti-Obama domain names registered by the Clinton campaign. Now, I don't know that these websites are entirely wrong in principle. Anything that draws even the slightest contrast gets called negative these days, but they're tried and true methods that have worked on the electorate for years.

Multiple websites could be useful, too. Anything that breaks down the differences between the two senators is fair game, and could be useful (of course they'll be slanted, but see Obama's response to Krugman. Nobody ever accused campaigns of being totally forthright with the facts).

Hillary's problem--and the reason this stinks to high Heaven--is that it comes across like yet another small measure to simply smear Obama. At some point, Mark Penn et al. decided that Hillary's negatives were too high to reconcile with the electorate. So, they blew the dust off of the old text book, and cooked up a litany of ways to raise Obama's negatives in order to create parity with him. So repeat the drug use meme. Have Bob Kerrey accidentally mention Islam and the "secular madrassa," whatever that is. Start a few hit sites, etc.

And this won't be the end of it. Lord knows what direct mail drops will be "under the radar" in Iowa over the next couple of weeks.

Sigh...'tis the season.


Others Blogging It:

Don Surber
The Swamp
No More Mister Nice Blog
MORE

Blog-Tank

Cheryl Rofer of WhirledView has a pretty neat idea. She has invited bloggers of all political persuasion--open invitation--to weigh in on American nuclear policy. Not content to leave this topic to the Foregin Policy Community, she thinks bloggers can contribute valuable ideas and positions on this issue. Here are the rules:


Each blogger writes a post on what the US's nuclear policy should be on her/his own blog. Then please notify me by e-mail or a comment on this post.

I have e-mailed some folks I would like to have participate, but everyone is welcome to join. Invite your blogfriends. I would like to have participants who represent a range of political opinion.

Commenters are encouraged to contribute as well, both here and on other participating blogs.

On Friday, 12/28, I will summarize the arguments, emphasizing novel ideas and points of agreement and disagreement.

Bloggers will then write another round of posts, trying to move to consensus positions.

I will then summarize again on Friday, 1/4. At that point, I think we're going to be close to agreement on most of the big points.


Dave Schuler and Michael van der Galien have already chimed in. Check it out.

Irony

Is the definition of irony, perhaps, Karl Rove complaining about "endless" campaigns?

Intern(s)

So this month marks the departure of our beloved intern James. He contributed some great content to the blog, and otherwise made my life a lot easier.

So, the good news is that we have an opening(s)! If you read RealClearBlogs, than I know you have already won half the battle. Would be ideal for someone in or near DC, and wouldn't be too time consuming. Good chance to work with the RCP Empire and do some blogging.

E-mail me if you're interested.

Tancredo Out?

Jonathan Martin wonders:


Perhaps most notably, Tancredo's close friend, Rep. Steve King, passed over his colleague and threw his support behind Fred Thompson this week. King and Tancredo have worked closely on immigration and many in Iowa thought King would not endorse as long as Tancredo was in the race.

A source close to King said they knew of the press conference for tomorrow but didn't know what Tancredo would announce.


Tancredo has a press conference scheduled for tomorrow. Might he follow suit and endorse Fred? Blake is thinking the same thing.

Me in your TV

Check it out.

Religious Tests

Somehow, I don't really buy Harold Meyerson when he cites his concerns over the "Christianization" of the Republican Party. He begins by reminding us that the founders opposed religious tests, but then proceeds to religiously test the Republicans.

Republicans support war and waterboarding, yet oppose immigration, according to Meyerson. This, he'd have us believe, is bad because it's inconsistent with the actual teachings of the Bible.

So would religious tests be appropriate if the GOP was more pious? If the GOP platform were instead a mirror image of the Sermon on the Mount, would that pass muster with Meyerson? My guess is no.

Exit Questions: Is his point then if you impose a religious test, at least pass it? Would the founders approve of that logic?


Others Blogging It:

Stop The ACLU
Matthew Yglesias
Buckeye State Blog
MORE

Cog in the Regime

David Horovitz writes in today's Jerusalem Post:


Dr. Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who has secured Interpol backing for the arrests of several leaders in Teheran, including former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, for ordering the July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community offices in Buenos Aires, also urged the international community to pressure Iran into giving up the wanted men for trial.

Nisman said the AMIA blast, in which 85 people were killed, and the bombing of the Israeli Embassy two years earlier, in which 29 people were killed, had been "ordered, planned and financed" by Iran's top leadership. Teheran, he said, was incensed that Argentina, under former president Carlos Menem, had suspended and ultimately stopped what had been close cooperation with the Iranian nuclear program, including the training of nuclear technicians and the transfer of nuclear technology. At first Teheran tried to cajole Argentina into reconsidering, he said. Then it issued threats. And finally, it employed terrorism.

---

Interpol's executive committee voted unanimously to uphold the arrests, he noted, "an unprecedented diplomatic defeat for Iran." And it now fell to the international community to pressure Iran into giving up the men.

While he acknowledged the current Iranian regime would "never" cooperate, he said the men might at some point think it safe to leave the country, and that other factors might yet see them handed over for trial, if only in a third country rather than Argentina. "If I didn't think it possible," he said, "I would have abandoned this."


I got the impression, while reading about this case in the past, that Rafsanjani was the big stumbling block here. The international community has been hesitant to go after the former Iranian president, mainly due to his diplomatic tone and reputation as a "reformer."

But this is just one incident of terror and assassination perpetrated by the republic during Rafsanjani's reign in the 1990's. The prosecutor's claim--that the bombings were an act of spite over diminished nuclear cooperation--only makes him look worse.

The key problem, I think, is that critics observe Iran like they would any other nation. To the West, an Iran with Rafsanjani at the helm and a coalition of reformers in the Majlis would be a better Iran. And it would be, at least marginally. But it's a mistake to look at their governmental infrastructure this way.

It's more like Antonius Block playing Death in the chess match. The idea that Block can beat Death is far fetched at best, and in all reality just a way to race against the clock to avoid the inevitable. The game is rigged from the beginning, the conclusion already determined. This is modern day Iran. Hashemi Rafsanjani plays a particular role in this regime. He is a cog who gets carted out every few years or so to present a more "worldly" Iran to the world. He did this in the late 1980's, when Khomeini overturned some of the social liberalization he had previously permitted. Rafsanjani scrambled to secure global investment in the country, and reassured the world that Iran had nothing to do with acts of terror throughout the 80's. His name--along with Khatami's--represents the hope of reform in Iran. This is important in a totalitarian society, where the carrot at the end of the stick offered every now and then can keep a population docile and at ease.


Others Blogging It:

The Corner
Power Line
MORE

Bono on Gore

TIME:


For Al, 2008 is a rendezvous with destiny and an appointment with the enemy. The foe he sees is our own indifference to the future and a lack of faith in our ability to do anything about it. He stresses that through crisis we can find opportunity. His language is pretty Biblical, but, then, doesn't the Bible say something about floods? He is like an Old Testament prophet amped up with PowerPoint and an army of the world's scientists at his disposal. The right response to the global-warming crisis, he explains, will be a mosaic of solutions that will kick off a whole new economic boom, one that is low-carbon and high-productivity, with truly sustainable development, and an atlas for planet management -- using not New Age technology but old age wisdom generating sustainable solutions.

Mea Culpa on Kerrey

So yesterday I defended Bob Kerrey's comment about Sen. Obama's middle name, as I though it had some merit to it. It turns out Kerrey proceeded to stick his foot in his mouth throughout the day. Carpetbagger Report has more:


What's more, there's still the context to consider. Just as the race started to get much more competitive, nationally and in the early contests, Billy Shaheen talked up the drug issue, Mark Penn not-so-subtly threw around the word "cocaine" on MSNBC last week, Clinton herself warned of unidentified "surprises" from her rivals, and now a prominent Clinton supporter is subtly repeating some of the points in a deceptive email lie making the rounds.

Just to be clear, this could be a coincidence, and Kerrey might be as rhetorically clumsy as he seems. But it's also possible that the Clinton campaign, feeling the heat, is aiming below the belt. I really hope that's not the case.


Marc Ambinder rips up the silly "secular Madrassa" comment, too. So is Kerrey just an idiot, or is something more nefarious going on here?

Live Deskin'

I'll be on FNC's The Live Desk w/ Martha MacCallum today at 1 pm EST to talk about blogs and 2008.

Check it out!

Shorter Netroots

The entrenched and arrogant "establishmentarian" of the MSM is a deserved target of blogger derision, unless of course they say stuff you agree with.

"Hussein"

I think Kevin Drum has it mostly right on Bob Kerrey's Barack "Hussein" Obama comment/gaffe:


Kerrey wasn't suggesting that electing Obama would have any direct effect on hardcore al-Qaeda jihadists. But terrorists can't function unless they have a critical mass of support or, at a minimum, tolerance from a surrounding population. This is Mao's sea in which the jihadists swim. Without it, terrorists simply don't have enough freedom of movement to be effective, and their careers are short. It's why the Red Brigades in Italy and the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany lasted only a few years, while the IRA in Ireland has lasted decades.

What Kerrey was getting at was simple: in the long run, the only way to defeat the hardcore jihadists is to dry up their support in the surrounding Muslim world. And on that score, a president with black skin, a Muslim father, and a middle name of Hussein, might very well be pretty helpful.


And the fact that he shares the name with one of the most significant martyrs in Shia Islam would probably be a valuable tool in negotiating with Iran, a place where martyrdom and Islam play a prominent role in history, as well as everyday politics.

It doesn't mean Obama would be the best person for the job, but it does give him a sliver of commonality with a world that is leery and suspicious of American intentions.

Joe's Capital

I think the far Left is mad at Joe Lieberman for the wrong reasons today. Endorsing John McCain now--while the GOP field is still wide open--shows that he probably does believe everything he has to say about McCain. They have worked together on national security, immigration reform and environmental protection. McCain has shown a willingness to cross party lines, and as Lieberman argues, frequently puts country before party (which partly explains McCain's frequent struggles with the GOP base). All of these comments are fair and fine, and the fact that a Democrat endorsed a Republican with that kind of record shouldn't be so upsetting. Left-wing bloggers--who often claim to be the arbiters of what makes a good Democrat--certainly aren't pleased, but they don't vote for Lieberman.

However, the problem I see here is that Lieberman deceived the people who did in fact vote for him. Not just the hyper-partisan Nedheads, but all of the Democrats, Republicans and Independents who trusted the senator have now been misled and deceived. As The Nation reminded us yesterday, Lieberman, while on the stump in 2006, claimed he wanted "Democrats to be back in the majority in Washington and elect a Democratic president in 2008." This message--built around a "Connecticut first" type of strategy--was part of the senator's appeal. It allowed Republicans who were skittish about his social Liberalism to justify a vote for the man. A vote for a Democrat who "gets it" on terrorism felt like the right thing to do, and vindicated them for abandoning their own party in the general. It was above party. For the Democrats who stuck by him, it must have been a trying and arduous election. They were no doubt the subjects of derision by holier-than-thou activists seeking to reshape the Democratic Party in their own image. Their party loyalty was undoubtedly questioned, and today, they must feel like a collection of cuckolds. What they did, they were promised, was above party.

All of these voters were asked in 2006 to put Connecticut first, and now they're being asked to put country first. But all of Joe Lieberman's capital was built on the fact that 2006 was an anomaly, a necessary moment of independence in the face of radical and wrongheaded progressive activism. It was the wrong time, they were warned, for America to go to the Left. That was the bill of goods sold to them by the Independent Democrat, and the voters of Connecticut bought it.

For Lieberman, it was never essential that he be a "good Democrat," whatever that means. I'll leave that distinction to the Stollerists. But Lieberman misled the voters of Connecticut in 2006, and has probably exhausted his independent capital in the process. Bucking the party line on occasion can sometimes be a display of statesmanship. Doing it all of the time is not. At some point, you're simply playing for the other team without the jersey.

City States

They're apparently the new black. Roger Cohen explains:


"The best position today is to be a small country within a large economic entity and trading area," Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister told me. "That's why we want an independent Scotland within the E.U."

Flanders? Scotland? Brussels as Singapore-like city state? Wallonia? Kosovo? The map of Europe is not fixed. But I suspect its overall stability is. I am attached to Belgium -- two of my children were born here -- and I'd favor its preservation, but I can't say it's necessary within an overarching E.U.

As for a Belgian government, it would be nice to have one, but not essential. There's no Belgian franc to go wobbly. There's no monetary policy to set. There's scarcely a country to govern, given how far European integration on the one hand and national devolution on the other have gone.

This is the 21st-century world the United States will face: a mysterious Europe with a more identifiable phone number living its postmodern version of paradise as its nation states get less meaningful or dissolve; and a rising Russia and China hurtling the other way, toward 19th-century-style nationalism, militarism and assertiveness.

Such dissonance will require American flexibility and imagination, enough to understand that the essence of the Belgian crisis is: this is not a crisis.

Mark Penn

...is a bizarre character.

Andrew Sullivan has more, and I must agree with Ezra Klein on this...the look on Joe Trippi's face is priceless (and what was with Penn's smug little chuckle during Trippi's final comment?).

"Masters of the universe"? Penn can't even master the fine art of standing still. Easy on the coffee there, Mark.

Dewey With a Cause?

Jay analyzes Giuliani's campaign itinerary over at HorseRaceBlog:


But in other respects, Giuliani's campaign itinerary has left me puzzled. In particular, Giuliani has made no stops in Michigan since November 1. He is up in the RCP average, but not by a large amount. I have no answers to this puzzle. I have only questions. Does the Giuliani campaign know something that the poll numbers are not telling us? Perhaps his position is stronger than the polls show, thus enabling him to ignore Michigan. Perhaps it is weaker, thus making trips there not worth his while. Are Michiganders like Floridians - not yet on-line in the same way that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire are? Does the Giuliani campaign simply not regard Michigan as a game changer?

Just as puzzling is Giuliani's de-emphasis of South Carolina, which has merited just two appearances since November 1. South Carolina is legitimately a five-way contest between Romney, Giuliani, McCain, Huckabee, and Thompson. And yet Guiliani does not seem to be campaigning there very hard. All of the questions that we asked about Michigan can be asked once again - with one additional hypothesis. Perhaps the Giuliani campaign thinks that, regardless of what happens in South Carolina, it cannot lose. In a five-man race, it is unlikely that the winner will win by enough to develop any momentum.

So - where has Giuliani been spending his time? Essentially, he has been toggling between New Hampshire, where he has made 18 public appearances since November 1, and the Super Tuesday states, where he has made 11 public appearances. This is consistent with the hypothesis about Giuliani's campaign I made in October. It is striking a balance between the early states and the states of February 5. This strategy has come into better focus now - whereas Giuliani was largely spreading his time between Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, and South Carolina when I last wrote, it now appears that New Hampshire is the focus of his efforts.


Tom broke down the Giuliani campaign's public nomination strategy last month, and as Jay argues, it would seem as if Rudy's itinerary is consistent with that plan. Since delegates are awarded by Congressional district in SC--and for the time being has no clear leader in the polls--it makes sense that he skip out on that primary for the granite state. In order to maintain a healthy position, he needs to do respectably in New Hampshire. While this thing has turned into an apparent dash between Romney and Huckabee, Giuliani is hoping to turn it into a marathon, with the finish line being in St. Paul. I get that.

Thus, you get the impression that Rudy views himself as too liberal to be the base's candidate. It's more likely that he sees himself as the ideal national candidate for the bulk of the party, and perhaps the second choice of the base, mainly due to the salience of security and terror issues. It strikes me as a bit of a gamble, but one that would give Giuliani a good degree of probable deniability if he were to get the nomination and run to the center.

I'm a sucker for historical parallels, so I wonder if Giuliani is basically Thomas Dewey with a cause. In other words, a relatively liberal Republican willing to embrace a cross-cutting issue that resonates across the spectrum. Dewey refused to redbait for political expedience, at least no more or less than Truman had already been doing. He once argued that you can't "shoot an idea with a gun." Well, Rudy is not only going to shoot that idea of Jihadism, he's going to bunker bust it, and keep all other options on the proverbial table.

Could this backfire on the GOP? Were he to get the nod, would they inadvertently be ending the Republican coalition built over the past 30+ years?


UPDATE:

Well there goes that "marathon" strategy.

"Hillary's Mom Lives With Her"

This flashes across the screen in the latest spot attempting to humanize Senator Clinton.

I'm certainly not a blind Hillary hater, but I just can't buy this "Hillary the mom, Hillary the daughter" gimic. It seems as if women running for high political office often need to walk a fine (and unfair) line. You have to be tough, but not too tough.

Is Hillary too tough? Is it hurting her primary chances with women? Reid thinks so, and he sees the candidate with the more compelling personal story--namely Obama--making some headway with Clinton's "natural constituency." Oprah helps, too.

Khatami Comeback?

Scott MacLeod thinks so:


Khatami said political freedom was more important than slogans about economic justice. In that vein, he sharply criticized the Guardian Council, the body that has routinely disqualified Iranian reformists from participating in elections and thereby tilted the outcome in favor of conservatives and hard-liners. "What right do some have to make decisions on behalf of the people and disqualify those trusted by the people on the grounds that their eligibility was not approved by six or 12 individuals?" Khatami asked.

Khatami, it seems, is out to change his reputation in Iran for being a well-meaning politician who lacks political courage. His remarks suggest he will take a leading role in mobilizing reformists against Ahmadinejad and his fellow hard-liners in parliamentary elections scheduled for March.

Although it has not coalesced into a formal alliance, there has been a lot of talk that Khatami will be part of a three-way anti-Ahmadinejad bloc that includes two other major figures, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former Speaker Mehdi Karroubi, both of whom lost to Ahmadinejad in the last presidential contest.

There's no sign that Khatami will actually be a candidate for president once again in the 2009 election, but he would stand a good chance to defeat Ahmadinejad if he did run. Despite widespread disillusionment that he did not fulfill his promise as president, Khatami remains one of the country's most popular figures. In the 1997 and 2001 elections, he captured more than 20 million votes each time in the first and only rounds of voting. By contrast, Ahmadinejad won less than 6 million votes in the first round of the 2005 election, and 17 million in his victorious runoff. Since leaving the presidency, Khatami established the International Institute for Dialogue among Cultures and Civilizations.


Khatami would be a welcome change of pace in the eyes of the West, although it's debatable whether or not much would change regarding free press and speech. But it certainly couldn't hurt the economy, since Khatami has a better grasp on free trade and economics.

But as Khatami himself mentioned, unless the Guardians Council is eliminated, it will remain difficult to alter the system too dramatically.

2009 should be an interesting year for Iranian politics.

Religious Straitjacket

There's a difference between allowing faith to inform your decisions and allowing faith to pigeonhole you. Rick Moran explains:


But there is a huge difference between being inspired or animated in your politics by religion and thrusting your religious beliefs forward as "proof" of your superiority as a candidate. Or that your faith gives you a privileged position in a debate over public policy issues.

And that, boys and girls, is the problem with this GOP field. The Democrats have their own agenda when it comes to trying to appeal to Christians. Witness Barack Obama's efforts in South Carolina where he staged a "Gospel-fest" featuring some of the country's finest Gospel singers. But Obama seems to wear his faith like an old coat - comfortable and roomy. Candidates Romney and Huckabee wear their faith like a straitjacket, the tenets of which limit their worldview while binding them to positions on social issues that brook no opposition because they are based on holy writ.

Irrefutable Estimates

Henry Kissinger is perhaps the wrong messenger for what is in fact a rather salient and important message. I touched upon it yesterday, and it deserves repeating--Once intelligence estimates become an arm of public political discourse, their very purpose changes dramatically. Kissinger is correct to question this scenario, wherein often unelected policy makers and intelligence gatherers somehow become a check upon the executive branch of government.

The problem with this autonomy is that it's not consistent with what was structured to be a civilian-led process, ultimately accountable to voting citizens. Americans voted for President Bush...twice. They did not vote for the bureaucrats who occupy the halls of State, or CIA, or wherever. It also contorts the original purpose of the NIE, which was initially intended to show broad trends and possibilities in across-the-board intelligence gathering, not to be an irrefutable source for American policy decisions. These estimates, as history has shown, have at times been terribly wrong, and should be analyzed rather than codified. They should guide decisions rather than determining them outright.

James Joyner views this, possibly, as a necessary evil. Acting upon what we almost certainly know to be true is better than acting on the contrary. My concern then becomes the direction this takes things, if we're to go down the constant path of repeatedly checking the executive. If the NIE becomes an autonomous authority on American intelligence, then it risks becoming an interest group bearing less authority. If the audience becomes the American public--as opposed to their elected Commander in Chief--then the tone changes and inevitably becomes politicized.

Kissinger, sad to say, nails it:


The intelligence community has a major role in helping to design such a vision. But it must recognize that the more it ventures into policy conjecture, the less authoritative its judgments become. There was some merit in the way President Richard Nixon conducted National Security Council discussions at the beginning of his first term. He invited the CIA director to brief on the capabilities and intentions of the countries under discussion but required him to leave the room during policy deliberations. Because so many decisions require an intelligence input, this procedure proved unworkable.

I have often defended the dedicated members of the intelligence community. This is why I am extremely concerned about the tendency of the intelligence community to turn itself into a kind of check on, instead of a part of, the executive branch. When intelligence personnel expect their work to become the subject of public debate, they are tempted into the roles of surrogate policymakers and advocates. Thus the deputy director for intelligence estimates explained the release of the NIE as follows: Publication was chosen because the estimate conflicted with public statements by top U.S. officials about Iran, and "we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available." That may explain releasing the facts but not the sources and methods that have been flooding the media. The paradoxical result of the trend toward public advocacy is to draw intelligence personnel more deeply than ever into the public maelstrom.

The executive branch and the intelligence community have gone through a rough period. The White House has been accused of politicizing intelligence; the intelligence community has been charged with promoting institutional policy biases. The Key Judgments document accelerates that controversy, dismaying friends and confusing adversaries.

Intelligence personnel need to return to their traditional anonymity. Policymakers and Congress should once again assume responsibility for their judgments without involving intelligence in their public justifications. To define the proper balance between the user and producer of intelligence is a task that cannot be accomplished at the end of an administration. It is, however, one of the most urgent challenges a newly elected president will face.


Allow the American public to judge the decisions made by their elected officials. This, consequently, grants more weight to their own democratic choices. If you want to see what an overly-bureaucratic, bloated and layered example of check-upon-check governance looks like, simply observe the subject state of the now infamous NIE. Iran--arguably a republic in name only--has multiple agencies and institutions intended to check the other, all resulting in a state of paralysis that relies on the appellate judgment of the Supreme Leader.

This is the behavior of a government that distrusts the judgment of its own people. Keep the agencies of the executive branch defined, and allow the American people to be the "check" on their decisions.


Others Blogging It:

Gabriel Schoenfeld
No Quarter
MORE

Mitchell Report (Updated)

The long awaited Mitchell Report is scheduled for release today, and the baseball world waits with bated breath to see if any of their past or present stars are on the list.

Ryan at RealClearSports has a blog roundup on the buzz and rumors so far, while Dan Drezner has an open thread on the topic.

The report will be released 2 pm EST. Check in with RealClearSports throughout the day for all of the latest on this potentially earthshaking MLB scandal.


UPDATE:

The list is up.

Pilgrimage 2.0

John Burgess on a high speed Hajj to Mecca:


I have to say that upon first reading this Saudi Gazette article, I was a bit puzzled why pilgrims, performing one of the utmost duties of Muslims--the Hajj--would need to have WiFi. Hajj, however, is not just the rituals that take place near the Kaaba, Mina, and the other stations of the pilgrimage. There's a lot of 'down time', particularly at night, when it might indeed be useful for businessmen. I still get a crossed-wire, though. I would think that even during off-time, pilgrims would be more interested in their spiritual well-being than in surfing the net. I would certainly hope that there're no WiFi access points at either the Grand Mosque in Mecca or the Prophet's Mosque in Medina!

Mahmoud of the People

My thoughts on Ahmadinejad the populist over at PoliGazette.

Strike Imminent?

Ed Morrissey wonders:


The Russians want to export their nuclear technology for much-needed hard cash. They have not supported the sanctions on Iran imposed by the UN Security Council except as lip service, and in any case have never felt themselves bound to honor economic sanctions at all, as their history with Iraq proved. The American conclusion that Iran has stopped work on nuclear weapons provided them with the perfect opening for putting Bushehr back on track.

This puts the situation in a critical state. Once Russia delivers the fuel, an airstrike will be out of the question for Bushehr. The Israelis made sure to hit Osirak before France delivered the fuel in order to avoid spreading nuclear contamination over a wide area, where it would affect civilians. If the Israelis believe that Bushehr represents the same kind of threat as Osirak, it will have to strike very soon or not at all. They have stated over and over again that they will not allow Iran to go nuclear; will they have the same determination as they did in 1981 to stop them?

Keyes With the Hail Mary Pass!

Via Marc Ambiner, what the candidates would do in their first year:


Keyes: "Abolish income tax." "Executive order" ending abortion.


Yikes.

Policy via Exhaustion

An interesting point from Shadi Hamid of Democracy Arsenal:


All of which to say is that if things had had taken a different course from that point on, the Bush administration's legacy could have been judged a mixed bag, one with both positive and negative elements. However, today, the verdict is and will be much harsher - that this administration, as far as foreign policy is concerned, is one of the worst in American history. The decline and fall of George W. Bush, then, is both tragic and somewhat vexing. As I've said before - and this may anger some - I remember telling one of my friends in Jordan in early 2005 (and, trust me, I hated saying it) that in 10 or 15 years, we will look back and we might have to admit to ourselves that the Bush administration was the best thing that happened to the Middle East. Yes, I know, it's crazy.

But I think the general point holds - in the span of less than three years, the Bush administration went from being the "best thing" to being the worst thing that could have happened to the Middle East. It was a precipitous fall, and it's worth remembering what we've lost in the process. The public appetite for a "revolutionary" foreign policy is all but gone. But a revolutionary foreign policy, at this time in our history, might very well have been what was needed. But, then again, after the disaster of the Bush administration, even a thoroughly mediocre foreign policy will seem revolutionary. And perhaps that will be enough.


This, as I've argued, is why Ron Paul makes sense to many disaffected citizens.

Today's Tops

Todays best blog headline comes from David Kurtz of Talking Points Memo, in response to Sen. Kitt Bond's comparison of waterboarding to swimming: "Bond Must Be a Really Bad Swimmer"

Check out the video.

From the Mouths of Nation-States (Updated)

I'm kind of puzzled by Matthew Yglesias's take on the latest Iran/NIE contribution from Thomas Friedman:


The implicit model of international relations here is pretty odd. Russia's not a seven year-old. China's not a wayward dog. These are countries. Countries that have people who understand the technical meaning of American intelligence assessments and countries that have intelligence assessments of their own. Their Iran policy is going to be guided by their assessments of the objective situation and what it is they want to do about it. Sure, they might come up with an excuse or two to do something, but the availability of excuses isn't the core consideration. By contrast, their assessment of what American policy is all about might effect their decision-making. If we look like a country whose concerns about Iranian nuclear activities are grounded in honest assessments of the facts -- a country governed by rational people in touch with the world around them -- then that makes cooperation more likely. Inevitable? No. But more likely.


Correct, they aren't children, but they are in fact global actors seeking to meet their most essential and basic national needs. China--the more childlike of the two at this point--is not developing policy based off of honesty and integrity. Their policy towards Iran is mostly economic in nature, and threats of terrorism and instability in the Middle East are of less concern to them. They don't have 160,000+ troops stationed in Iraq. They weren't targeted by Al Qaeda in the 1990's, nor were they attacked in 2001.

Assuming that other nations act rationally and reasonably are two different things. The case could be made that Iran is deserved of UN sanctions simply because of their record of terrorism and proxy war in the Middle East. But international institutions--namely the Security Council--are structured so that the "biggest" nations in the world can influence matters of universal significance. The problem with this logic is that nations do act like children, grabbing at what is ultimately in their own interest. Chinese behavior is just the latest rendition of this behavior. Genocide in Sudan and terrorism in Iran are not enough to deter them from satiating their growing energy appetite. A nuclear Iran, on the other hand, just might.

And Yglesias misunderstands the purpose of the NIE in the first place. This analysis is not intended to inform or influence the behavior of other regimes, but rather serve as a tool for American policymakers and officials. It's original intent, as Sherman Kent famously explained in 1964, was to inform the policy decisions of American officials. Inform them, not dictate them. They're called estimates for a specific reason, and to state them as fact would not only assume something we can't know for certain, but it would be somewhat whimsical to rely on them solely as a means for making policy.

It just so happens that this particular estimate disputes what had previously been the "common knowledge." But it was a shift, and our decision to release the report not only puzzled the European community, the French and the Israelis, but it no doubt confused our contacts in China and Russia. Rightfully so, since the West was in the middle of heavily lobbying these two governments for a third round of Iranian sanctions upon the estimate's release.

Call it transparent, democratic and so on, but the greatest praise for this recent NIE has come from Tehran. It makes it harder for the West to sell the two biggest SC obstacles on new sanctions, something a majority of leaders in the Western world viewed as a net positive. Whether or not Tehran appreciates the favor we did for them is probably a moot point. National interest is often childlike, and we shouldn't mistake transparency for respect (certainly not the case in Moscow or Beijing). The two often never twine.


UPDATE:

Dennis Ross agrees.

Cuban Blogging

Perhaps he should worry more about getting his team past the Spurs this year, but Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has an interesting rant on progressive taxation over at his blog:


I'm OK with paying either higher taxes at my level of income OR paying a consumption tax on luxury items that cost more than the 250k threshold that Hillary thinks is the level of income that defines rich. But my agreement to pay more taxes comes with a caveat.

Right now I hate paying taxes because I feel like I'm giving money to a known crack addict. However much you give, its not enough. They will buy their crack, get a short term high and soon be back asking for more.

The federal government , whether in Republican or Democratic hands is the same way. No matter how much you give, they are always asking for more, more, more. Always spending on the ridiculous, without remorse and without the ability to restrain itself. Just like a drug addict.

If you are going to raise my taxes, I want somethings in return.

Raise my taxes by 1 pct, by every 1 pct you cut federal spending. Your choice of raising taxes on luxury items, or on annual income of 10mm dollars per year or more. Cutting spending means the government needs to raise less which allows you to raise the income threshold on which you charge this "Forbes 400 surcharge"

And I want 1 more thing. I want transparency. The way the government publishes information on money it spends ,receives and owes is a joke. No one in this country has any real knowledge of how much our country really owes. There are so many hidden and unpublished liabilities that if our country were a public company, someone would go to jail.

Hack a Huck (Updated)

huckdrudge.jpg

Speaking of negative campaign tactics, it looks as if Hugh Hewitt isn't the only guy stumping for Mitt Romney these days. GreenMountainPolitics1 notes the irony:


And while we marvel at the power of Matt Drudge - and the incredible soapbox that he has built - we do understand that Drudge has a dog in the GOP's '08 Primary fight.

Which means that you take his pro-Romney headlines with a big grain of salt.

Which means that Mr. Drudge doesn't have the media juice that he once did.

Which means that Drudge isn't driving MSM political stories the way he once was (which is where his real power always lay).

Which lessens the Florida resident's impact on Iowa/New Hampshire/South Carolina voters.

A lot.

We're just saying.


Jonathan Martin has more, arguing that this stinks of "Mitt desperation" to those who can see through the, uh, Drudgery of it all.


UPDATE:

Dan Riehl has no sympathy for "Aw-shucks-abee."


UPDATE II:

It's like clockwork at this point.

And I'm a bit confused by this supposed "hold all fire" rumor coming (again, supposedly) from the DNC. As Allah already noted, it would've made little sense for the DNC to exhaust money and resources on Huckabee up to this point. Is the DNC "holding fire" on Duncan Hunter? How about Alan Keyes?

Huckabee is clearly a factor in Iowa now, so we'll see if this Drudge story has any truthiness to it. But why should the DNC go after Huckabee? Drudge and Hewitt are doing it for them! Conservative bloggers, say what you want about the Netroots, but they at least aspire for discipline. You'll often see the "don't use Right-Wing talking points against other Democrats" meme floated around the blogosphere, and now you can see why. The big winner may be the DNC, which comes out looking rather influential here in a Republican nomination process.


UPDATE III:

DNC denies it.


Others Blogging it:

Hot Air
Middle Earth Journal
The Strata-Sphere
MORE


Well Oiled

Why is it, if the dreaded Clinton Machine is so imposing, that stuff like this keeps getting out? Michael Crowley has more:


You may have seen that Bob Nash, a deputy Hillary campaign manager, sent around a trashy email looking for dirt on Obama's days as a community organizer. Apart from its grotesque illiteracy--does the author of the phrase " WHAT DI DHE DO AFORE HOW LONG AND WITH WHO ??" really have clout in national politics?--the most striking thing is the rank clumsiness here. Which makes me suspect Nash was acting on his own and not at the behest of Hillary's generally cunning operatives.


Then again, it seems Nash is a trusted Clinton insider dating all the way back to Arkansas.


If this is the best they can do, than Barack has nothing to worry about.


Others Blogging It:

Wizbang
Campaign Spot
MORE

Uninspired

James Joyner on the uninspired electorate:


Hillary Clinton has been the presumptive nominee since 2000 or so and her party is naturally chomping at the bit for a chance to unseat George W. Bush. By contrast, the Republican nominating electorate is divided among itself with no candidate who appeals to all sectors of the base.

Once a nominee emerges, however, that will cease to matter. While some Republicans will have difficulty summoning enthusiasm for any of the plausible nominees, few indeed will have trouble voting against Hillary Clinton.

Majoritarianism

Brendan Nyhan on Tim Russert:


Tim Russert's interview with Rudy Giuliani on "Meet the Press" is a perfect reflection of the scandal-driven priorities of the Washington press corps. Guiliani is a top presidential candidate with little knowledge of or experience in foreign policy. Norman Podhoretz, one of his advisers, wants to bomb Iran and thinks Iraq's WMD are in Syria.

...

Now, there are certainly serious ethical questions about Guiliani. But these pale in comparison to questions about how he would conduct himself in office, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. Unfortunately, however, Russert wants to break news and the way to do that is to force Giuliani to go on the record about skeletons in his closet.


I generally agree with Nyhan, and find him to be a clear-headed thinker in an often hazy and hyperpartisan blogosphere. But this critique of Russert reminds me of the severe case of majoritarianism that many bloggers--both Left and Right--seem to suffer from. Nyhan, like some other bloggers, seem to see it as the journalistic duty of the Sunday Show/talking heads crowd to cater to their every whim regarding policy.

The problem here, as Matthew Yglesias essentially notes, is that there are two ways of looking at Giuliani's foreign policy vision. Whereas Nyhan considers it weak (and I'm inclined to agree), others probably view Rudy as an experienced executive informed by the 9/11 crisis. He is a "get things done" kind of guy, and knows how to make the tough decisions. Etc.

So what is a Tim Russert to do? You can't please everyone all of the time, so the best thing you can do is talk about the issues that could shake all potential voters. A Republican and a Democrat may disagree on Rudy's foreign policy, but both can agree that he is a pretty bad husband with some shady business dealings in his closet. Those character issues may not matter to bloggers who obsess over nuance, but they still matter to an electorate that often identifies character and "likeability" as positive political qualities.

As I've argued in the past, the Russerts of the world fill a particular role in American politics. If, like Nyhan, you fear Rudy Giuliani's policy on Iran, than the best way to peal away at his candidacy's onion is to start with matters that all people can relate to. If the candidate is deemed unethical, they may never get the opportunity to bomb a country or cut a tax. Russert--who is ultimately beholden to ratings and advertisers just like any other TV personality--knows this, and understands what his viewers will find mutually dissettling or pleasing.

Blogging Brothers

Marc Lynch of Abu Aardvark on the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood bloggers:


In a controversial article published on al-Jazeera Talk (and, notably, not on his own blog or on an official MB website), Abd al-Monem Mahmoud ("Ana Ikhwan"), one of the leaders of the Brotherhood blogging movement, declared a mournful end to the Brotherhood blogging opening. The great mistake of the MB bloggers, Mahmoud concluded, was that they became identified with a specific ideological and political trend - which made it too easy for them to be portrayed by internal and external critics as a "faction." Blogging was supposed to be a personal thing, not a political trend, and its growth into a movement doomed the experiment. Leaders were particularly concerned about the trend since it came a time when the Brotherhood faced a harsh regime crackdown; the airing of internal disagreements helped the organization's enemies and weakened its public image. A number of senior leaders rebuked the blogging Brothers, both publicly and privately, urging them to come to their elders to discuss their concerns rather than just posting them online for all to see. Finally, argues Mahmoud, the recklessness of a few of the youth (especially the "Islam Offline" episode, where some young bloggers posted a parody site of the official Brotherhood website in protest over its editorial decisions) triggered a harsh backlash throughout the senior ranks. The organization's leaders, he hints, decided that the time had come for discipline to replace openness.


This is obviously disappointing news, although it's promising nonetheless to see such transparency issues being debated within one of the largest Islamic political movements in the world. This poses a challenge for future bloggers, one would think, since the nature of the medium has always tended towards organization and scrutiny. It is often an inherently reactive medium, and it'll be interesting to see if the Brotherhood opens that window ever again.

Good Fences

Reuters:


A U.S.-Iranian committee set up to find ways to quell violence in Iraq will meet next week, Iraq's foreign minister said on Monday.

The two bitter foes' ambassadors have met in Baghdad three times since May after a diplomatic freeze that lasted almost 30 years, but have agreed on little of substance except the creation of the committee after their second meeting.

In the latest violence, a mortar attack killed seven inmates at an Interior Ministry jail and Iraqi security officials said a rocket strike started a large fire at a Baghdad oil refinery.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told a news conference the talks would be held in Baghdad on Dec. 18.

Washington accuses Iran of arming, funding and training Shi'ite militias in Iraq. Tehran rejects this and blames violence, in which tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, on the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.

"This will be a technical meeting, a follow-up to the last meeting of security experts, not at the level of the ambassadors but (deputy chiefs of missions) and security experts," Zebari said. More ambassadorial talks could be held later, he said.


It certainly is worth noting how monumental this is, hence my added emphasis. Since the diplomatic freeze following the revolution in '79, America has traditionally had all business in Tehran handled through the Swiss. The fact that two regimes with such heightened tensions can even agree that a security committee might be a good idea is a net positive. So when presidential candidates--and certain bloggers--clamor on about how we need "creative" diplomacy and direct negotiations with Tehran, it might be helpful if they described what that means in further detail.

To my recollection, Bill Richardson* and Barack Obama are the only candidates calling for unconditional negotiations, although there may be others. If these narrow and very structured security discussions teach us anything, it's that the argument for some sort of "grand bargain" meeting between the two governments isn't all that feasible. The relations didn't sour during the Bush administration, and have actually made strides even during tense times such as these.

The lesson here? Warm and fuzzy negotiations--structured around big pillar ideas and friendship--often produce very little substantive policy. To some, diplomacy means the American presient holding a photo op in Tehran with Ahmadinejad. This would appease some of the progressive sensibilities on the issue, but it doesn't take into account just how far apart these two nations are diplomatically. My guess is that small, structured and often methodical negotiations such as these are the way to go, and will likely yield better results if Iraqi security is the priority. While Iran would no doubt prefer a greater political role in Iraq, they may settle for now on a way to maintain a legitimate border between the two nations.

In other Iran news, Gateway Pundit provides us with a full roundup on the latest student protests in Tehran.

* Richardson arguably has the least serious Iran proposal of them all. Rather than negotiating with Ahmadinejad, he proposes that we talk directly with the more "moderate elements" in the Islamic republic...thus guaranteeing a swift jail sentence for those moderate elements.

Boomer Blame

Jill of Brilliant at Breakfast on blaming the baby boomers:


No doubt it's the fate of every generation to be hated by the one that comes afterward, because unfortunately (as we have found out, much to our dismay and eternal embarrassment), rebels have been trying to change the world for the last century; and not even a large generational population is not going to be homogeneous enough to create any kind of real change all by itself.

Now if the Gen-Xers moaning about how they aren't going to see any Social Security (which by the way, we always knew to be true of us as well) and the progressive millennials thinking that they are going to be able to work 20 hours a week so they can go kite flying every night and still make enough to pay the rent and if they can't it's all the fault of their boomer managers, would recognize that there is greater power when generations get together in the common interest rather than their own parochial ones, perhaps we would have the numbers to make substantive changes. Because a lot of us have been out here trying for the past 30-40 years. We've had limited success at best, but we could sure use the help as we continue.

Lebanon Adrift

Scott MacLeod The Middle East Blog on Lebanon's state of limbo:


Among the decisive new factors, perhaps, is Annapolis, the new U.S.-led effort, begun during the Maryland conference two weeks ago, to achieve a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East. It represents the Bush administration's gradual shift from idealism to realism--from pushing a democracy agenda that shows zero-tolerance for countries and groups like Syria and Hizballah to pushing a security agenda that involves bringing the Middle East's warring parties into negotiations. Syria would have made a strategic mistake by ignoring Bush's invitation to engage in talks aimed at a Syrian-Israeli accord over the Golan Heights. Seeing that the White House no longer had the stomach for brinksmanship in Lebanon, the March 14 forces threw in the towel and agreed to compromise with March 8.

That amounts to a hugely demoralizing setback for the millions of Lebanese who took to the streets on March 14, 2005 to protest Syria's military domination of Lebanon after the assassination of March 14's martyr, former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.

Nick Blanford's time.com story about the Suleiman deal this week captured the political shift and the accompanying disappointment, quoting a senior March 14 figure saying, "The message the Americans are sending to the region is that what succeeds is terror, bombings and a total disregard for democracy. No one is going to remove the feeling from March 14 that we have been dumped by the Americans."

The fear, of course, is that the U.S. will "sell" Lebanon to Syria once again, as it did in 1990, in order to get Damascus to cooperate on broader Middle East issues--such as getting Bashar Assad to join an anti-Iran coalition, just as his father Hafez signed up for the anti-Iraq war 17 years ago.


Couple this report with the must-read analysis released this week by Ray Takeyh and Vali Nasr on Iranian-American relations, and it becomes pretty clear that the Wilsonian rhetoric of President Bush's '06 SOTU address is a thing of the distant past. Whereas the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was once the pivot point for policy decisions in the Middle East, the erosion of the Iraqi presence has created a vacuum that Tehran may gladly fill.

Now, the litmus test may not be where you stand on Jerusalem, or settlements, but rather where you stand in relation to Tehran. Nasr and Takeyh doubt the feasibility of an Arab alliance against Iran, and rightly figure that some states (such as Qatar and the UAE) will soon hedge their bets with the republic.

This creates a no-win situation for arguably the two most democratic regimes in the region--Israel and Lebanon. Prioritize security, or in the case of Lebanon your own national autonomy, and you may be infringing on American policy in the region. Take one for the team, and you're likely to sacrifice some of your own national interests.

All About Mitt

Jay Cost with a fascinating take on Romney's speech:


I would suggest that the whole issue of Mormonism is actually a red herring in this campaign. The issue here is Romney himself. Remember that the Mitt Romney of 2007 is very different than the Mitt Romney of 2002 on many social issues. Five years ago, he had little to do with evangelical Christians. Now -- through his positions, his language, and his emphases -- he wants them to believe he is just like they are. That is all well and good -- and indeed he might be. But surely he must expect those voters to be wary of the systematic changes that a 60 year old man has undergone, to want to know more about this man and what he believes, and to frame those questions in terms of religious beliefs. Is it unreasonable for those whom he is openly courting (on their terms) to inquire a bit about the origins of his policy preferences, to want some insight into his inner being, to see whether he will remain faithful to his promises once in office?

Romney seems to think so. Not only did yesterday's speech provide no positive answer -- but, because it once again leaned so heavily on the non-sequitur of religious toleration, it placed the questioners on the same ash heap upon which have been placed the narrow-minded boors who drove Roger Williams to Rhode Island and Brigham Young to Utah. Romney is not the first major party candidate Mormon to run for President. He's not the second. He's not even the third. He's the fourth. Why is his religion an issue the fourth time around? It is because he has chosen to run an explicitly religious campaign that appeals to voters whose religion has political salience to them. Unsurprisingly, voters want to know a little bit more about his beliefs, but in response he transforms into the candidate of Lincoln's "political religion," deploring a religious "test," and arguing that we focus on the aspects of religion that unite us all.

Blogging "The Speech" (Updated)

I'll be live-blogging the much-spoken-about speech on faith this morning by Mitt Romney, scheduled for 10:30 EST in College Station, TX. If he flubs, fibs or triumphs, we'll point it out!

Meanwhile, Tom Bevan and Erick from RedState wonder what the big deal is. And if you just can't wait to watch it (or if you're at work), you can read some excerpts here.


UPDATE:

For what it was, and if I were a Romney supporter, I would view "The Speech" as an overall success. Stylistically, it had all of the little nuts and bolts you might look for in a strong political speech. He created an "us vs. them" scenario, and asked Americans to remember who the real bad guys are--"Violent Jihadists" and those evil Secularists! The latter, he argued, threatens the religious heritage of our nation at home, while the former threatens liberty abroad.

He invoked the founding fathers, always crucial, but especially so in this case. One of the concerns surrounding Mormonism, as I've seen it, is the very "newness" of it. Romney makes the point that the founding principles of our nation--the most important "political religion" of America--is our one binding faith, and the very fact that Mormonism "tests our tolerance" makes religious freedom all the more necessary in these times.

Romney went on to compliment all of the faiths in America, and drew upon the pleasant qualities they all possess. The Catholic mass, the devout Protestant ethic and the Islamic priority of prayer. Ed Morrissey fears this all religion buffet may have come across as pandering, but I think it served more of a technical role. It's a common speech technique, and it reminded me of President Reagan's speech on Omaha Beach in 1984. Much like Reagan, Romney's speech pulled people in by enumerating the things they all share. It was another way to remind voters that this isn't simply about his faith, but all faiths. "He said Catholic...hey, I'm a Catholic!"

But in a way, Romney sort of duped us all here. We were waiting with bated breath for a "The Speech," and instead got a complete campaign speech. He's Mormon. He fights terrorists. He loves to protect life (wink,wink), and he thinks secularism is the scariest religion in America. In addition to hearing about how his faith "informs" him, we learned all of the reasons why we shouldn't worry about it. He'll do his job, 'nuff said.

Best line, in my opinion: "No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths."

One criticism--When John Kennedy gave this speech, there was a pretty extensive Q&A session at the end. Why didn't Romney answer a couple of questions? This again leads me to believe that we were kind of conned here, and that this was simply the stump speech on steroids.


UPDATE II:

The Corner:


That was perhaps the best political speech of the year. It was well-crafted and delivered with conviction and -- this is unusual for Romney -- considerable emotion. I thought his contrast of the empty cathedrals of Europe with the violent jihadis was particularly adroit. He managed to make this a speech about patriotism as much as about religion. Brilliant.


Taylor Marsh:


Frankly, I don't care about Romney's religion. After watching him through videotape my conclusion is that this man has no political compass and will say whatever is needed, changing what he must with the blowing political winds, even more than most. That has nothing to do with his religion. It says something about the man. However, his speech today says more about this country, but particularly the Republican party.


The Moderate Voice:


As a religious Jew, it is obvious to me that religion (yours, mine, anybody else's) does not belong in the public square. Romney would have us keep the nefarious 1954 interpolation "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and fill public property with Nativity scenes and menorahs (but probably not Muslim crescents or Wiccan ceremonies). Oh, "The legend, "In God We Trust," became a part of the design of United States currency in 1957 and has appeared on all currency since 1963."

So, Romney would have us restore a faux-1950s generic Protestant Christianity to American citizenship.


Chris Cillizza:


A quick search through the text of Romney's speech -- 2,540 words -- just once did Romney utter the word "Mormon." ("I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it," he said.) If Romney is embracing rather than diminishing his faith, it seems as though he would mention it a time or two more, no?


I disagree with Cillizza. Im sure this was intentional, and the real point of this speech was to bind voters together in a "symphony of faith." This was not Kennedy's "The Speech," it was simply sold as such. The real message here, as I saw it, was that there are cohesive American values, and Romney believes that he's the guy to defend them from enemies at home and abroad.


Update III:

This line is getting a lot of play so far:


Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.


Politico runs this as their headline, and it has Steve of No More Mister Nice Blog steamed.


UPDATE IV:

Shorter Hugh Hewitt: If you didn't like the speech you're stupid.

More NIE (Updated)

Robert Baer of TIME speculates:


The real story behind this NIE is that the Bush Administration has finally concluded Iran is a bridge too far. With Iranian-backed Shi'a groups behaving themselves, things are looking up in Iraq. In Lebanon, the anti-Syrian coalition and pro-Syrian coalition, which includes Iran's surrogate Hizballah, reportedly have settled on a compromise candidate, the army commander General Michel Suleiman. Bombing Iran now would upset the fragile balance in these two countries. Not to mention that Hizballah has threatened to shell Israel if we as much as touch a hair on Iran's head.

Then there are the Gulf Arabs. For the last year and a half, ever since the Bush Administration started to hint that it might hit Iran, they have been sending emissaries to Tehran to assure the Iranians they're not going to help the United States. But in private, the Gulf Arabs have been reminding Washington that Iran is a rabid dog: Don't even think about kicking it, the Arabs tell us. If you have to do something, shoot it dead. Which is something the United States can't do.

So how far is Iran from a nuke? The new NIE says 10 to 15 years, maybe. But that's a wild guess. The truth is that Iran is a black hole, and it's entirely conceivable Iran could build a bomb and we wouldn't know until they tested it.


When considering what a major shift this NIE was, the Bush leak theory almost makes some sense. The extreme Left won't want to hear it, but thus far, the Bush administration (with perhaps the exception of our VP) has taken a rather middle-of-the-road approach with Iran. They have utilized all of the UN channels, they've pressured actors such as China to get involved and they've worked with Europe to freeze economic investment there.

The Bush stance--that Iran was pursuing WMDs until late 2003, and could do so again--is pretty reasonable. We know the invasion of Iraq may have played a part in the program's suspension. Couple this with the IAEA's own speculation about Libya and Iran sharing the same material sources for their respective programs, and you can understand why the republic would make such a pragmatic decision. Releasing this information may have been a way to regain control of the sanctions agenda, repudiate the Israeli position or even repudiate a few elements from within his own administration.

But our complete turnabout on this has left even the IAEA a little bit perplexed. Read through ElBaradei's reports over the last few years, and you can see why. Nobody can know for certain where the Iranian nuclear program stands, and for the American intelligence community to change course so assertively in just two years is kind of puzzling.

It will be interesting to see how the Democrats respond. Thus far, they have used this as a wedge between Senator Clinton and themselves. But all of the candidates seem to acknowledge that a not-so-nuclear Iran poses just as many problems for us and our allies in the region, leaving the discussion between sanctions and a not-so-likely military assault.

I think most of us could live with that.


UPDATE:

James Joyner has a must-read on the NIE of 2007, and how a change in methodology may account for its sharp contrasts with 2005.

Also, read Kevin Drum's take on all of this--I believe he has it right, although I would like to know what's so "indefensible" about the current policy towards Iran.

Elsewhere, Robert Kagan says it's "time to talk to Iran":


Initiating the talks now would give the United States a better chance to frame the discussion, at home and abroad. Any negotiations should aim at getting the Iranians to finally answer all of the International Atomic Energy Agency's outstanding questions about the country's programs, agree to intrusive inspections and monitoring of its facilities, and address the U.N. Security Council's requirement that it suspend its enrichment of uranium.

The talks should go beyond the nuclear issue and include Iran's support for terrorism, its harboring of al-Qaeda leaders, its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and its supplying of weapons to violent extremists in Iraq.

They should also address the Iranian government's violation of human rights and its tightening political repression. Some argue that you can't talk to a country while seeking political change within it. This is nonsense. The United States simultaneously contained the Soviet Union, negotiated with the Soviet Union and pressed for political change in the Soviet Union -- supporting dissidents, communicating directly to the Russian people through radio and other media, and holding the Soviet government to account under such international human rights agreements as the Helsinki Accords. There's no reason the United States cannot talk to Iran while beefing up containment in the region and pressing for change within Iran.

What, no "Nixon goes to China" reference? Where's the call for diplomatic creativity?

Kagan's argument isn't totally unfair, but he just threw a whole lot on the table for the Iranians to chew on. The biggest piece--their defiance on uranium enrichment--has already been removed from the table, as far as Tehran is concerned. Do you set preconditions? Do you offer more incentives?

We also should not forget that these carrots have been offered by the Bush administration in the past, only to be snubbed by the Iranians.


UPDATE II:

From Matthew Levitt at Counterterrorism Blog:


The declassification of these key judgments suggests the Bush administration intends to pursue non-military tools. Some might say that the NIE shows that sanctions are not needed. That is hardly the case; the U.N. Security Council and IAEA concern has always been about Iran's enrichment facilities, not about a weaponization program. In fact, what the NIE shows is that carrots and sticks work. The estimate concludes Iran might be convinced to extend the halt to its nuclear weapons program with "some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways."

The declassified key judgments are sure to spark fierce debate over the nature of the nuclear threat posed by Iran. But on the pressing issue of how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions the intelligence assessment is clear: financial and political sanctions can be effective.

Evidence suggests Iran is indeed vulnerable to outside influence and, unlike the blanket sanctions applied against Iraq under Saddam Hussein, today's sanctions are both targeted and graduated. First, the sanctions are aimed only at those regime elements specifically engaged in illicit conduct (such as banks engaged in deceptive financial practices, nuclear proliferation front companies, the Revolutionary Guards and Qods Force). Second, they are applied in phases in order to demonstrate that their purpose is not simply to punish Iran but to encourage a change in behavior. Should that behavior not change, additional targeted and graduated sanctions must be implemented for the threat of sanctions to remain credible.

It is perhaps ironic that the new NIE was released on the same day that European and American diplomats announced in Paris that China now supports further international sanctions targeting Iran. In the wake of disappointing reports from both the IAEA and European Union on Iran's nuclear program, China's support for targeted measures focused on Iranian banks, as well as travel restrictions on key individuals, means a third U.N. Security Council resolution is possible before the new year.

Until recently, China maintained it preferred diplomacy over sanctions. But in fact sanctions do not undermine diplomacy, they create leverage for diplomacy. With China now indicating support for multilateral sanctions, there is good reason to hope that smart sanctions may yet create diplomatic leverage.


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Bush Doctrine Revisited (Updated)

Jay Carney, albeit sarcastically, spins the potential spin on the recently disclosed NIE summary of Iran's nuclear weapons program...or lack thereof:


The inevitable spin out of the Bush Administration will be that the NIE is proof that their approach on Iran has worked. In fact, expect to hear and read lots of analysis and punditry about how Chris Hill's success in North Korea, positive surge-induced developments in Iraq, the promise of progress emanating from Annapolis and even, why not, Venzuela's narrow rebuff of Hugo Chavez are all the product of Bushian diplomacy.


Is this really so far fetched? As Ed Morrissey points out, something certainly did happen in 2003 that might've prompted Iran to halt whatever advances they had made in nuclear armament. Whereas Libya rushed to come clean with their nuclear intentions, Iran presumably made an internal political decision to halt their efforts out of self-preservation. After all, they needn't look too far west to see what the result might have been.

Some on the far Left have already used this as a way to dismiss the Bush administration's handling of Iran, and instead credit the IAEA for Iran's 2003 decision. This theory would be stronger, were it actually consistent with the timeline of events from that year.

It was the U.S. that had provided the surveillance photos of the construction at Natanz and Arak in December of 2002--just three months prior to the imminent invasion of Iraq. In November of 2003, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei declared that there was "no evidence" of a nuclear weapons program in Iran. Today's bombshell report from the NIE disputes this claim, instead stating that the program was halted in the fall of 2003...right around the time ElBaradei declared there was no program to halt.

So was there "no evidence," or was there a program in motion that ceased to be? The truth is that the threat of American military action always rested as the backdrop to any inspection/sanction policy implemented by the UN. The combination of hard and soft power--the most blatant exhibit of the former being the invasion of Iraq that very same year--likely motivated the preservationists in Tehran to rethink the exporting of the revolution in the form of a nuclear Iran, as they have done repeatedly since 1979.

It would appear as if the gut reaction by some on the far Right has been to reject the legitimacy of the intelligence community on this. While there might be some valid reasoning behind doing so, that tactic strikes me as the least responsible avenue to go down. After all, this report is monitoring trends noticed over several different intelligence agencies, and essentially aggregates their findings by confidence levels. Shooting the messenger--especially those who may have risked their lives to acquire such knowledge--seems somewhat counterproductive.

Iran had been pursuing nuclear weapons up until the latter half of 2003, nearly two years after President Bush had labeled the regime as part of the "Axis of Evil." By late 2002, the U.S. had questioned the activity at two locations in Iran, prompting the rest of the international community to investigate. March 2003, Iraq is toppled for (supposedly) possessing WMDs. By the end of that same year, Iran had given up her nuclear ambitions, at least for weaponized purposes.

This could potentially place the Democratic presidential hopefuls in a box. Embrace the NIE, and embrace the idea that "cowboy diplomacy" may have indeed been effective. However, it only makes the Iran question even larger for both Democrats and Republicans alike. Trust the NIE, and the debate shifts from "do they" to "should they." The report makes it clear:


• We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be
technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon is late 2009, but that this
is very unlikely.

• We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of
producing enough HEU for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame.
(INR judges Iran is unlikely to achieve this capability before 2013 because of
foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.) All agencies recognize the
possibility that this capability may not be attained until after 2015.

D. Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could
be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so. For example,
Iran's civilian uranium enrichment program is continuing. We also assess with high
confidence that since fall 2003, Iran has been conducting research and development
projects with commercial and conventional military applications--some of which would
also be of limited use for nuclear weapons.


As Dan Drezner notes, this makes the possibility of a Bush attack on Iran highly unlikely. So the onus now falls on the frontrunners for 2008, and the question isn't do they have nuclear weapons, but should they. There also remains the other two of the "big three" Iran concerns: 1. Their state sponsorship of terrorism, and 2. Their destabilizing role in Iraq. As I've argued in the past, it's in fact more immediately imperative that these two concerns be addressed, for the security of our troops stationed in Iraq, and the collective security of our allies in the region.

Perhaps this is the direction the candidates will take the NIE in, but only time will tell. This story has blogtopia abuzz, and rightfully so.

We shall keep you abreast...


UPDATE:

Matt at Foreign Policy Watch makes a valid point:

The only problem is that, if other countries were only recently overcoming a reticence to impose more sanctions on Tehran, they still will after the events of today. In some sense, I (sorta...) agree with Hadley. Iran is still in violation of three UNSC resolutions by ignoring demands to halt uranium enrichment and its adamant refusal of any suspension as of late - including outstanding inconsistencies in the construct of its nuclear infrastructure - has caused a great deal of suspicion about Iranian motives. The task will come, however, in finding others who agree that this by itself warrants new sanctions, for it's reasonable to believe that the admission that US intelligence is confident Iran is not working on a bomb in the basement will weaken the case for a third round of sanctions.

Marginal Iraq

Peter Beinart--always a glutton for progressive punishment--with an interesting commentary in today's Washington Post on the Iraq "non-story":


Since summer, according to The Post, the percentage of Democrats prioritizing "strength and experience" has gone down and the percentage wanting a "new direction and new ideas" has gone up. That's good news for Barack Obama, who is low on experience but high on charisma. In recent weeks, the Democratic primary campaign has frequently revolved around small, even trivial, issues -- driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, rumors of planted questions at town-hall meetings and dirty tricks -- that supposedly testify to the character of the candidates. And in this changed environment, Obama and John Edwards have managed to sow doubts about whether Clinton is too evasive and too scripted.

When the world is falling apart, people tend not to care about these sorts of things. After all, Americans elected Richard Nixon twice because they thought he could best extricate us from Vietnam. But with Iraq no longer as central, campaign 2008 has become more like the campaigns of 1992, 1996 and 2000, when résumés mattered less and personality mattered more. In the 1990s, the guys with pizzazz won and the guys with gravitas lost: Just ask George H.W. Bush, Robert Dole and Al Gore.

Iraq could make a political comeback, or it could be supplanted by another frightening post-Sept. 11 topic such as Pakistan or Iran. But right now, it's the biggest non-story of the campaign. No wonder Mike Huckabee is smiling.


I have a couple of problems with this theory:

1. The case could be made that Iraq is the lens through which all other foreign policy matters are viewed. So while the word "Iraq" wasn't literally stated that often during the Las Vegas debate, it was likely the backdrop behind all discussions of foreign policy. Iran, Pakistan, and even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have become altered by the American military presence in Iraq. When it comes to polling, one rule of thumb I had heard was to watch and see if jobs/economy passes the 35% mark. When it does, it drags all of the other issues with it. The same could probably be said of Iraq, which has become, in many ways, the new watermark for American foreign policy.

2. Likely primary voters--like those polled in New Hampshire--may already be entrenched on the Iraq War. They may not have their preferred candidate in mind, but they probably have their favored party in mind. Most of the Republican contenders favor maintaining a presence in Iraq, whereas most of the Democrats hold varying plans for withdrawal. As an umbrella issue, there is near consensus on each end of the spectrum. The same cannot be said of immigration, as Beinart notes, which creates a divergence of opinion on both sides of the primary race.

That being said, it's an interesting argument made by Beinart. He neglects to mention John McCain, whose candidacy should probably serve as the Iraq War weathervane. How many times has the Arizona senator's campaign been pronounced DOA? Will Iraq improvement mean good things for him?

Launch-Day

Be sure to check out the latest endeavor by Michael van der Galien, PoliGazette. The site is new and improved, and Jason Steck, Pieter Dorsman and Dustin Metzger (all equally wonderful writers) complete the new site's editorial staff.

Michael breaks down all of the cool new features the website offers, and Dave Schuler kicks off an impressive list of guest posts to come.

Michael & Co. have worked hard to create what will undoubtedly be a great Right-of-Center blog. He has been gracious enough to allow my musings on the site, which I am very grateful for. But don't take my word for it, see for yourself!

And in other renovation news, FireDogLake did some remodeling over the weekend, so head over to FDL and check out their new digs.

Imus

This morning marks the return of Don Imus to the airwaves, approximately 8 months after what he and his staff now refer to as "the incident."

Patrick of FishBowlDC has been live-blogging the show all morning, just in case you missed it. Also, Nicholas Wapshott writes in the NY Sun on what the I-Man's return may mean for the '08 election:


Who's afraid of Don Imus? Not the Republican front-runner in Iowa, Michael Huckabee, who has agreed to appear on the "Imus in the Morning" radio program, which returns this morning after a nine-month silence.

Presidential candidates in both parties now face a new and unpredictable danger: the rebukes and ridicule of the politically incorrect Mr. Imus, 67, the often foul-mouthed and acid-tongued former Marine who consolidated his radio fame by luring onto the air senior politicians and political journalists willing to risk association with controversy to reach his enormous audience.

How much influence the recalcitrant broadcaster will have on the candidates entering into the final month of campaigning before the Iowa caucuses will depend on how quickly Mr. Imus can recapture his lost form after so long an absence and how many of his regular prominent guests are prepared to resume being associated with him.


Dodd and McCain were both already on this morning.


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